Archive Story Two

I never would have thought that a raspberry pie would provoke me to ruminate on the patterns of life that we hang on to in our retirement years. The pie did have real raspberries that we had picked and frozen, and the crust was a pre-made formula-type thats guaranteed to taste good. But there was no special ingredient other than lemon juice to make the pie exceptional or thought provoking. In fact I had thrown it together at the last minute when we invited a couple (Peter and Margaret) to join us for dinner.

What made this pie significant to me was not the pie itself, but its enthusiastic reception. Peter and Margaret were both euphoric over it and even after two helpings couldn’t keep their forks out of the pie dish.

“We never have homemade pie like this,” Margaret said, and even after I described how easy it was to make, I could tell neither of them was going to try to duplicate it. Several days after the couple left, we received a thank you letter from them again extolling the virtues of the pie.

That night I thought about Peter and Margaret’s life and realized that they really couldn’t conceive of making a homemade pie. They were so caught up in their work and travel that there was no time for making pies much less gathering berries for it. This couple was in their early 60′s. They had just come back from Argentina after spending 10 years there, Margaret running an import business, and Peter doing freelance advertising work for local American companies.

When Margaret started telling me about her work in Argentina, I felt that I was listening to a long distant runners struggle to break a record over an obstacle course. She’d almost pant as she told me how she had to overcome one barrier after another that the Argentines had set up in their attempts to thwart her business. At the end of her story I wasn’t sure if her business had been successful. I only knew that she was exhausted and disillusioned by the experience.

I had known Margaret’s father, Logan, and was struck by their similarity of style. Logan had been a world champion runner who had retired with a fortune after winning his final race. He had gained worldwide acclaim, and had brought Margaret and the rest of his family into the limelight. I knew Margaret had never been comfortable with this role so I understood why she went out on her own, away from her father’s influence. Yet despite her distancing herself, I could see in the Herculean task that she had taken on, that she was trying to live in her father’s shoes. Although I knew she had enough money from her father to live a good life, she was driven to fulfill a prominent role.

I hadn’t known Peter but I knew that he had graduated from a well-known Ivy League College and was very much programmed to focus on his career. He had spent his work life in the advertising business.

Peter and Margaret were just finishing a short vacation when they stopped by to see us. As they began to talk about their lives, I could see they were at a crossroads. They had no real home. They had settled in Chicago although they still owned a home in Houston, Texas. The two of them flew around a lot between their places, visiting their kids, (who were now grown up) and their work. Margaret had become a consultant specializing in helping others start up businesses in Argentina, and Peter was working full-time for a large advertising firm. Margaret admitted that she had recently flown to New Orleans to spend 12 hours before having to fly to New York.

Peter often worked 17 hours a day, leaving the office at midnight. I noticed Peter limped rather badly. He explained that several years ago he had hurt his right knee in a bad car accident, and his knee had never completely healed.

They talked lightly about the stresses they were under and their need to change their lives, but I could see they were at a loss as to what to do. They were obviously more comfortable in their current roles than in the role of retirement, and yet I had to think to myself how crazy it was for these two people to be working and traveling so much at their age when they had enough money to live comfortably.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized how deeply attached they were to their roles. Peter and Margaret had been brought up to eschew the homemakers role for the role of the career. Like so many people they identified themselves with what they were doing in the outside world not with how they could take care of their personal needs.

Margaret couldn’t get out of her fathers shoes partly because of her own issues with her father and also because she was afraid of losing her role. Peter was still obsessed with his work even though by now he was fully established as a success in his career and had no need to convince himself or others of his worth in the market place.

Yet from the enthusiasm they showed over my raspberry pie, I could see there was a side of them that really appreciated and were hungry for not only a home made pie but a home made life-one that could truly satisfy their spirits.

Knowing the stage of life they were in, I felt compassion for them as I knew it would be a challenge to change the long-standing patterns they had set in place. It would take a lot of soul searching to break away from the surface satisfaction and security they got from their work. Yet it was inevitable that they would be forced to shed their roles.

As I was in the midst of putting the memory of Peter and Margaret’s visit to rest, it occurred to me that there must be many people who are caught in roles that are overly stressful for their current stage of life. For their own peace of mind they need to find ways to nurture themselves.

“They could all benefit from making their own home made pie,” I said to myself.

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